FROM MINDFULNESS TO HEARTFULNESS, Part 2 - Some Different Kinds of Mindfulness

In Part One we looked at mindfulness as punctuating the day with times of immediate, here and now, bare awareness, appreciating beauty. Thich Nhat Hanh equated mindfulness with “seeing deeply”, by which he meant that when you hold a cup in your hand you see not only the colour and shape now, but also the clay in the ground, the potter who shaped the clay, the shop that retailed the cup, the cup newly bought and appreciated, the cup chipped and neglected on the shelf, the cup broken and discarded in the future, the cup returning to the earth – in other words the whole cycle and process of impermanence, involving many people, materials and energies interacting. Punctuation mindfulness with its immediacy of here and now attention and Hanh's deep seeing are not the same thing.

Deep Seeing involves a substantial cognitive, reflective dimension. Punctuation Awareness – or Stop & Look - involves arresting activity. Think now, however, what happens in a game of tennis when one must hit a ball travelling at a hundred miles an hour or what happens when surfing or dancing? The experience of being in the flow is a third kind of mindfulness. Thus we have already three kinds of mindfulness: 1. Stop & Look, 2. Deep Seeing, 3. Flow Experience. These constitute three differnt modes of consciousness.

None of these, however, really corresponds with the mindfulness that we find in the Buddhist texts, which is a Mind Fullness – a mind full of perennial wisdom. The aim of Buddhist practice was to achieve such a seamless integration of the spirit of such wisdom that on the one hand it unconsciously framed one's life activity and, on the other, it could be pulled forward into conscious awareness at will as required. The real import of such texts as the Satipatthana is not that mindfulness and awareness are the same thing – as is commonly assumed – but rather that Mind Fullness should enter into every thought, word and deed.

When this kind of Mind Fullness is established, wisdom and compassion become second nature. Thus, the aim of practice is not so much adherence to rules and formulae, more a naturalness or cultivated spontaneity, in which the person acts in a wise and compassionate manner matter-of-factly, without special self-consciousness. Buddhists will understand such “second nature” as corresponding with an implicit “first nature” or “first mind” that many consider to be the essence of true humanity – the face you had before YOU was born. Thus, mindfulness is also self-effacement.

Thus we can distinguish many kinds of consciousness that can be considered to be mindful. The list here is not exhaustive, but includes some important items:

1. Stop & Look

2. Deep Seeing

3. Flow Experience

4. Mind Fullness

5. First Mind

6. Self Effacement

When we approach the subject of mindfulness, just as with other aspects of spiritual practice, there is much to be said for an inclusivist and expansive attitude rather than a reductivist one. Distinguishing different kinds of mindfulness is one way of expanding our appreciation of this topic and avoiding clinging to a tight definition of some supposed panacea. The world of spiritual practice is full of many wonders. We can see spiritual practice as a dialectical process. Every time we expand our understanding, we are led to search for an essence, a unity within the diversity, and whenever we arrive at a sense of essence or wholeness, we once again expand into its multiple dimensions.

To be continued

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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks David

Yet another very helpful collection of thoughts and suggestions.

Yours

George

What a treasure trove of opportunities! 

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